« IndietroContinua »
Our first example shall be borrowed from the manners and customs of the British parliament. That scene may fairly be regarded as the most mature and full-grown exhibition of the powers of human speech, and yet it is there also that one of the most famous of interjections first originated, and is in constant employment. The cry of “Hear, hear,' originally an imperative verb, is now nothing more nor less than a great historical interjection. The following is the history of the exclamation, as described by Lord Macaulay, History of England, ch. xi. (1689).
“The King therefore, on the fifth day after he had been proclaimed, went with royal state to the House of Lords, and took his seat on the throne. The Commons were called in; and he, with many gracious expressions, reminded his hearers of the perilous situation of the country, and exhorted them to take such steps as might prevent unnecessary delay in the transaction of public business. His speech was received by the gentlemen who crowded the bar with the deep bum by which our ancestors were wont to indicate approbation, and which was often heard in places more sacred than the Chamber of the Peers. As soon as he had retired, a Bill, declaring the Convention a Parliament, was laid on the table of the Lords, and rapidly passed by them. In the Commons the debates were warm. The House resolved itself into a Committee; and so great was the excitement, that, when the authority of the Speaker was withdrawn, it was hardly possible to preserve order. Sharp personalities were exchanged. The phrase “hear him,” a phrase which had originally been used only to silence irregular noises, and to remind members of the duty of attending to the discussion, had, during some years, been gradually becoming what it now is; that is to say, a cry indicative, according to the tone, of admiration, acquiescence, indignation, or derision.’
The historian could not have chosen more suitable words had it been his intention to describe the transition of a grammatical part of speech into the condition of an interjectional symbol, whose signification depends on the tone in which it is uttered. The fact is, that when a large assembly is animated with a common sentiment which demands instantaneous utterance, it can find that utterance only through interjections. A crowd of grown men is here in the same condition as the infant, and must speak in those forms to which expression is imparted only by variety of tone.
The Liturgy, when it was in Latin, was a prolific source for the minting of popular interjections. Where vernacular words are changed into interjections, some plain reason for their selection may generally be found in the grammatical sense of such words. But where a Latin word of religion came to be popular as an exclamation, it was as likely to be the sound as the sense that gave it currency. In the fourteenth century, BENEDICITE had this Sort of career; and it does not appear how it could have been other than a senseless exclamation from the first. It often occurs in Chaucer, as in the following from the Knight's Tale, 21 Io: * For if ther fille tomorwe swich a caas; Ye knowen wel pat euery lusty knyght, That loueth paramours and hath his myght; Were it in Engelond or elles where, They wolde hir thankes wilnen to be there—
To fighte for a lady, benedicitee 1
And not only is it true that interjections are formed out of grammatical words, but also it is further true, that certain grammatical words may stand as interjections in an Occasional way, without permanently changing their nature. This chiefly applies to some of the more conventional colloquialisms. Perhaps there is not a purer or a more condensed interjection in English literature, than that INDEED in Othello, Act iii. Sc. 3. It contains in it the gist of the chief action of the play, and it implies all that the plot developes. It ought to be spoken with such an intonation as to suggest the diabolic scheme of Iago's conduct. There is no thought of the grammatical structure of the compound, consisting of the preposition in and the substantive deed, which is equivalent to act, fact, or reality. All this vanishes and is lost in the mere iambic dissyllable which is employed as a vehicle for the feigned tones of surprise.
“Iago. I did not thinke he had bin acquainted with hir.
Iago. INDEED ! -
not honest ?
Iago. Honest, my lord?
Olb. Honest ? I, honest l’
Thus strong passion may so scorch up, as it were, the organism of a word, that it ceases to have any of that grammatical quality which the calm light of the mind appreciates; and it becomes, for the nonce, an interjection.
And not only passion, but ignorance may do the like. With uneducated persons, their customary words and phrases grow to be very like interjections, especially those phrases which are peculiar to and traditional in the vocation they follow. When a porter at a railway-station cries BY’R LEAVE, he may understand the analysis of the words he uses; and then he is speaking logically and grammatically, though elliptically. If he does not understand the construction of the phrase he uses, and if he is quite ignorant how much is implied and left unsaid, he merely uses a conventional cry as an interjection. And we need not doubt that this is the case in those instances where we hear it uttered as follows: “By’r leave, if you please !” It is plain in this instance that the speaker understands the latter clause, but does not understand the former—for, if he did, he would feel the latter to be superfluous. A cry of this sort, uttered as a conglomerate whole, where the mind makes no analysis, is, as far as the speaker is concerned, an interjection.
But when we speak of ignorance, we use, of course, a relative term. Some few know a little more than the average; but even with the best informed the limit of knowledge is never far distant. A gentleman who has enjoyed the benefits of a grammatical education, may
possibly find himself in a like case with the railway porter. For, as soon as a man travels beyond the limits of his own linguistic acquirements, he will find himself driven to use the Strange words of the strange tongue in an interjectional manner. In the following quotation we have an instance of a gentleman using two well-known French words in an interjectional manner, because he had not the learning which would have enabled him to use them more intelligently.
“Do you speak the language?” said one of the young listeners, with a smile which was very awkwardly repressed. “Oh, no!” replied the wellfed gentleman, laughing good naturedly; “I know nothing of their language. I pay for all I eat, and I find, by paying, I can get anything I want. MANGEz! changez 1 is quite foreign language enough, sir, for me;” and having to the first word suited his action, by pointing with his forefinger to his mouth; and to explain the second, having rubbed his thumb against the selfsame finger, as if it were counting out money, he joined the roar of laughter which his two French words had caused, and then very goodnaturedly paced the deck by himself.”—Bubbles from the Brunnens of Nassau, by An Old Man, 2nd edit., Murray, 1834, p. 17.
In this instance, mangez and changez are essentially interjections.
Fudge. Isaac Disraeli, in his Curiosities of Literature, vol. iii., quotes a pamphlet entitled Remarks upon the Navy, of the date 17oo, to shew that this interjection has sprung from a man's name.
“There was, sir, in our time, one Captain Fudge, commander of a merchantman, who, upon his return from a voyage, how ill-fraught soever his ship was, always brought home his owners a good cargo of lies; so much that now aboard ship, the sailors, when they hear a great lie told, cry out, “You fudge it.”
Mr. Disraeli adds, but without references, what is of great use for the illustration of this section. He says ‘that recently at the bar, in a court of law, its precise meaning perplexed plaintiff and defendant, and their counsel.’ It is of the very nature of an interjection, that it eludes the meshes of a definition.
It was Goldsmith who first gave this interjection a literary
currency. Mr. Forster, in Oliver Goldsmith's Life and Times, speaking of The Vicar of Wakefield, has the following:—
“There never was a book in which indulgence and charity made virtue look so lustrous. Nobody is strait-laced; if we except Miss Carolina Wilhelmina Amelia Skeggs, whose pretensions are summed up in Burchell's noble monosyllable.
“Virtue, my dear Lady Blarney, virtue is worth any price; but where is that to be found 2"
Hail. Here we have the case of an adjective which has become an interjection. It is a very old salutation, being found not only in Anglo-Saxon, but also in Old High Dutch. In the early examples it always appears grammatically as an adjective of health joined with the verb to be in the imperative. In the Saxon Version of the Gospels, Luke i. 28, ‘Hal was 8u’= ‘Hale be thou !’ and in the plural, Matt. xxviii. 9, ‘Hale wese ge’ = ‘Hale be yel And so still in Layamon's Brut (vol. iii. p. 162) where the variety of spelling is observable: “Hail seo bu Gurgmund; hal seo bu haëene king.
Which Sir Frederic Madden thus renders: —
“Hail be thou, Gurmund; hail be thou, heathen king. Hail be thy folk, hail thy noble men l' In the same poem (vol. iii. p. 144) we meet all hail in a purely adjectival signification: * & hev scal mine wunden makien alle isunde ;
al bal me makien
“And she shall make my wounds all sound; make me all whole with healing draughts.'
By the sixteenth century this ‘all hail!' had become a